Sports vs. Predators
The problem with rooting around for "damage" in strength athletes. Plus: toxic cycling communities, "age reversal," TikTok is fake. This is Link Letter 70!
Late last week, the New York Times ran a story on strongwoman champion Rebecca Lorch, 32, who died by suicide after publicly revealing alleged abuse by her coach, and receiving retaliatory legal threats from that coach in response. While I’m glad the Times covered her story insofar as it brings attention to issues of alleged abuse in sports, it’s stunning how far backward it will bend over to marginalize certain sports as “unbecoming” in people’s brains. It doesn’t even have to come right out and say this when it can just include a few pitying quotes about how messed up and damaged everyone who does that sport is:
For many, the pain and discipline function as emotional therapy. “We talk about being the misfits,” said Jackie Zagrans, a competitive strongwoman and friend of Ms. Lorch. "We’ve got tattoos head to toe. We’re a bunch of misfit toys. And the strongman community has always liked it that way…” “But what does that draw?
That draws people who have troubles. That draws people who have experienced trauma.…” Like other athletes, Ms. Lorch used the drugs to build muscle and hasten recovery from injury or overwork. But anabolic steroids are also associated with anxiety and major mood disorders, including mania, hypomania and major depression.
“A lot of times this sport does attract people who are already searching for something,” Mr. Fuhrman said. “It attracts people because it is a community, and it’s about empowering, it’s about getting strong. It attracts broken souls. When you throw drugs on top of those broken souls like myself, it compounds the issues.”
These people are entitled to their opinions. But these are strange and overly broad hand-wavey generalizations for a publication to include about a whole sport, especially in a piece that is most substantively about alleged abuse Lorch endured from her coach, which is part of a pattern that is so far from unique to strongman.
It’s difficult to prove a negative and I can’t claim to have read every single piece on the subject, but I don’t recall even a trace of such a gentle-headshaking narrative about “broken” athletes in the coverage of decades of widespread, systemic abuse within the USA Gymnastics system.
The following from the same Times piece on Lorch is more spot-on:
Coaches, like teachers and psychotherapists, enjoy an unequal power relationship with the athletes in their care. They instill self-worth and motivation and grant approval. But they can also withhold these to serve their own ends.
Not long after this piece ran, the USPA (a powerlifting federation, or, if you are the New York Times, an “exponentially heavier weights” federation[^1]) started imploding after it came to light that at least one board member was allegedly harassing and assaulting women lifters, and others in the executive committee allegedly knew about it and did nothing. This coverage also calls to mind the Washington Post story from a few weeks ago about bodybuilding coaches exploiting their clients.
What about this instead: In our culture, matters of the body are vulnerable and come already loaded with shame, embarrassment, and prejudice. The physical aspect of our existence is also often considered superficial or unserious. We all suffer from the tension between this aspect of our livelihood and the denial of it, and in that stew of denial, it becomes trivially easy for predators to move in and take advantage.
I wish that athletics were not situated in our culture in a way that so many bad actors invested in manipulating innocent people can profit. But we don’t need to handwring about what’s “wrong” with people who take performance-enhancing drugs (which is many people in pro sports and a vast number of people who work in entertainment, by the way) or who have tattoos or muscles or favor intensity over, I don’t know, a perfect arabesque.
~Discord Pick of the Week: Lots of great follow-up on last weekend’s Ask A Swole Woman letter from a cyclist who worried her body weight was impeding her success and enjoyment of cycling. A lot of the advice in my response was focused on the general issue of hyper-focusing on body weight relative to sports performance. But folks in the comments and Discord had lots of great and sport-specific advice for the letter writer:
- “No drop” rides—where whoever signs up for the group session is committed to not leaving anyone behind—are a thing. Hopefully if you are involved with a cycling group, they have such options.
- At least one member mentioned that they felt hurt by paced rides until they learned group rides had a training purpose and aren’t necessarily social. People are trying to work on their ride times and use each other to pace, so dropping is not meant to be personal (though it can suck).
- Sometimes even rides described as “easy” depend on the group and can be beginner-unfriendly or not actually slow in pace; depends on the community!
- Many cycling communities just are overly intense about performance. This too sucks, but it doesn’t mean a not-intense person needs to take on the burden of changing that entire dynamic.
- Many also agreed that there is a real lack of middle ground when it comes to sports as a hobby; a lot of times the available groups are “hell-bent on going pro” and “more like day care than anything else,” with nothing in between. I hope this changes but, for my part, am nothing if not squarely in between these two groups, and so are many in the Liftcord.~
Know the life and legend of Toadzilla, she/her, who “likely bulked out on a diet of insects, reptiles, and small mammals.” She’s since been euthanized, as she was an environmental threat. May she rest!
Excerpts from The House of Girth, Edith Wharton’s 1905 novel about powerlifting.
The sinking pleasure of a bath.
Masculinity of the ’70s and ’80s, in photos.
Like many, I have noted the rise of the breathtakingly expensive shoppy shop, but this piece really goes there by not only identifying the trend of shoppy shops but exposing the “Amazon for shoppy shops” website where they all get their their stock, thus making them virtual clones of one another despite the supposed commitment to indie cred. The site is called Faire. Even real life is not safe from the internet anymore!
If you were not already aware of Carnivore Aurelius—stay where you are. If you unfortunately were—he is not a woman, just a weird guy.
A reader asked me if this program (“Blueprint”) is real. I can be of service here: Anything that makes claims of “age reversal” is inherently fake and trying to steal your money. Hope this helps!
“When someone is said to have a ‘unique’ look like Martin’s or Taylor-Joy’s, it usually means they look kind of like a lizard, but in an editorial way… Maybe our next It Girl will have something else doctors can’t fix, like massive ears.”
Based on this tweet, declaring my intention to watch The Pirate featuring Gene Kelly this weekend. The research team here at She’s A Beast Limited Worldwide, which is legion,[^2] recovered the following excerpt from Gene Kelly’s Wikipedia page:
Kelly's athleticism gave his moves a distinctive broad, muscular quality, this was a deliberate choice on his part, as he explained: "There's a strong link between sports and dancing, and my own dancing springs from my early days as an athlete ... I think dancing is a man's game and if he does it well he does it better than a woman."
Believe in your dreams, Gene Kelly! Not unrelated: a photo violating every line of the Hays code.
How to completely own an airline in 3 easy steps. (Involves hacking. Still a great read.)
The latest in TikTok is fake: TikTok is fake.
A really stunning story from Binchtopia co-host Eliza McLamb on working as a “professional catfish” (something like a ghostwriter for creators on a certain sex-oriented platform).
Cord is right; history will not look kindly upon Crocs.
Some really good quote tweets with the funniest TV show scenes. I had to force myself to stop watching them so I could finish this damn newsletter.
That’s all for this week! I love you for reading, thank you, let’s go—
[F1] In the Lorch piece, the Times writes: "Powerlifting looks like something you can see in any gym, only with exponentially heavier weights." Christ almighty. No. Powerlifting is defined by the type of movements (squat, bench, deadlift, and the training that goes into doing those lifts well), not the amount of weight. If you squat, bench, or deadlift as much weight as you can, and that weight is two pounds, you are still powerlifting. The Times also refers to Lorch's clean and jerk, a complex Olympic weightlifting movement, as "pressing a barbell over her head." Please be seated, the New York Times
[F2] Just me